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Instead of National Travel and Tourism Week, How About This?

Clayton Reid

In 1983, Congress passed a resolution that cleared the way for a national celebration of tourism in the United States. National Travel and Tourism Week has since been an annual show of the industry's strength by creating a series of self-congratulatory events and inwardly directed recognition. And not to suggest that this is either inappropriate or undeserved. The tourism industry in our country should be recognized for the huge contribution it makes to the economy. It has been under-appreciated for too long, but not just for its economic importance.

Instead, it is the vital role travel plays in American life that should be better recognized. At its core, travel is a way to enjoy freedoms, satisfy curiosity and experience all that the world has to offer, a much grander cause than what seems to have become a singular focus on just jobs and tax collections. It was Mark Twain who rightly said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness."

In recent years, the US Travel Association and others have started a conversation about the merits of travel as it relates to personal health and self-reward. MMGY's Portrait of American Travelers® research (as well as many other studies) prove that our communities would be better adjusted by offering more time off from work and more chance to travel. The idea that travel breaks down personal and communal barriers, both in the figurative and literal sense, is nothing new. It's just that no one has really done anything about it. As evidence, in 2014, 20% of vacation days went unused and this number continues to rise. By the way, those vacation days used at a higher rate would mean more tax revenue and more jobs.

Perhaps it is time to consider evolving the way in which this National Tourism Week celebration takes shape each May. Instead of rallies and press conferences, maybe it is time to add a recognition of travel that has something more tangible for all of us; something that trumpets industry while serving up an American-sized reward. What if the considerable weight of DMOS, private sector travel CEOs and over 15 million line level workers channeled one voice to communicate something larger?

Maybe it's time for a "National Vacation Week" that offers travel vacation days for American workers. That's right, a national holiday, that not only creates time-off for private industry but also structures vacation days for tourism labor.

And while we're at it, here are some other things that could make for an interesting tourism dialogue this May:

1) Special travel discounts, packages and incentives provided by travel suppliers during a National Tourism (or Vacation) Week
2) An increase in benefits and wages for workers who complete online education in tourism and hospitality training
3) Gap-year subsidies for high school graduates who want to travel (and work) before continuing their education
4) Congressional field trips to national parks and protected habitats
5) Increased funding for Brand USA to allow for not just international marketing, but also domestic travel marketing and state co-op funding
6) Tax-free hotel days for locals who want to enjoy a weekend away from their home life
7) Job shadowing for local politicians to see the travel industry through the eyes of line-level hospitality workers

We can hear the cry and hue that we don't want to "become socialists" or ruin the "work ethic that made America great." But maybe everyone could take the lead of Millennials, who are already proving the axiom true that taking the largest pro-rata share of travel days in U.S. still allows its generation to be both productive and happy, a combination that has always been very closely linked.

Let's please continue to celebrate the best industry Americans have to offer, but how about we walk the walk too. National Vacation Week.

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